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Puffins on speed!

News Icon 17/06/2013

Having spent a few days on the ‘Puffin Island’ of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, did I actually get to see a Puffin?

It was the penultimate day when I decided to make the quest across the island to one of the great draws of this place. My wife, Helen, had spent our time here on crutches thanks to a mistimed sports injury, a good excuse if ever there was one for spending more time in the tavern beer garden! Not wanting her to miss out completely on island sights and sounds, I arranged the hire of a mobility scooter for her.

After breakfast, we set off along the island’s ‘super-highway’; the rough track that runs across the three mile length of Lundy. My visions of a leisurely walk were soon shattered as Helen’s little blue scooter raced off, forcing me into a near-jog to keep up!  We’ve never crossed the island so quick; through the farm, past ruined cottages long abandoned; we sped to the stone Halfway Wall which straddles the island. Soon, we were looking down on our destination; Jenny’s Cove; a rugged cliff edge landscape, rising 400 feet out of the ocean.

Helen stayed on the plateau while I picked my way down the grassy incline, holding on to rocky outcrops to avoid another bout of going quicker than expected! Steep, terraced slopes fell away in front of me; beyond them, sheer cliffs. Despite the warm, sunny day, the Atlantic was pounding relentlessly, big swell sloshing around what seemed a very long way down. Seabirds were hurtling through the air, hither and tither; black and white Guillemots and Razorbills like fluttering cannonballs; Kittiwakes, delicate ocean-going gulls, gliding gracefully.

I focused binoculars on white-washed patches of cliff face to find precarious ledges packed with guillemots standing like miniature penguins. This is where they breed; their asymmetrical eggs designed by nature to stop them rolling off and smashing hundreds of feet below. Above the sheer cliffs were grassy slopes covered in a range of floral carpets; one richly blanketed in bluebells, another dotted with pink thrift, and its neighbour in newly sprouting bracken.

I ran my eyes to where terraces of green meet jagged clifftop. It was here that I found what so many people come here to look for; Puffins. Not just one or two, but two-dozen of them; like tiny portly gentlemen in dinner jackets with the wackiest multi-coloured beak! They were busy going about their business of breeding. Some popped up and down from burrows, others threw themselves off the cliff edge and out to sea. Once airborne, they shot along on whirring wings. Landing again was far from easy; orange legs splaying out backwards in a mad panic to slow down as they crash land back into the colony, sliding down rocks and generally looking clumsy.

It was a joy to see more than the odd one. When I first came here, the odd Puffin was all you could bank on, and then mainly on the sea. The enormous breeding colony here was wiped out by the year 2000.  Pollution and changes in sea temperature affecting the birds’ food supply of tiny fish – sandeels and sprats are thought to be to blame, along with the island’s population of introduced rats that ate the eggs and chicks of burrow-nesting seabirds. The rats were removed in 2004. The next summer, a Puffin chick was discovered on Lundy, the first for more than 30 years.

I’ve seen seabird colonies in many countries.  I’ve seen first-hand how they can be affected by the unwitting actions of man. In Peru, I’ve seen seabird colonies devastated by overfishing; rather than sustaining wildlife, the fish used to feed far-away factory farmed animals like fish, pigs and poultry in Europe and China.

I was thrilled to see the Puffins back on Lundy. I scrambled up the bank to tell Helen what I’d seen.  She clapped and cheered at the news, every bit as enthusiastically as if she’d seen them herself!

So what makes a good holiday?  The company, the place and the weather of course!; but also the unforgettable memories, of which I leave with bucket-loads.

Thank you so much for joining me and for sharing in some of my special moments on Lundy; I’ve enjoyed having you along.

The ‘Lundy’ articles were written on the island during May 2013; read previous blogs in the series here: ‘Puffin Island’; ‘Super-highway sheep’; ‘The King’s bird’; ‘It’s good to be alive!’.


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